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Jewish Alliance for Women in Science

Helping Women Enter Careers Related to Science and Medicine

JAWS Highlighted Feature

Visit Mentors' Round Table to read our interviews of women in the fields of science and health. These are women of varying levels of experience and backgrounds, brought to the table to answer your questions about everything from work-life balance to financial management. Read on, be inspired, and leave them (and us!) a comment!

Newest Interviews: Ecologist, MD Student 1 (2nd year) , MD Student 2 (2nd year) , Optometry Student and Speech Pathologist

Check back soon! More to come!

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December 2010's Woman of the Month

Judith Resnik (1949-1986) by Lynn Cohen

Sources: Credit for this page goes to the wonderful Jewish Women's Archive as well as Akron Women's History.

**We highly recommend you also visit Danny Miller's blog for a wonderful article titled, Remembering Judy Resnik . --JAWS

One of the seven crew members who died in the tragic explosion of the space shuttle Challenger on January 28, 1986, Judith (“J.R.”) Resnik was a pioneer for women entering NASA’s space program, and the second American woman astronaut to travel in space.

A talented scientist and a private individual, Resnik gave her deepest loyalties to her father, her career, and her close friends. Although she avoided publicity whenever possible, she was fun-loving and spirited; her romantic crush on actor Tom Selleck was often a source of good-natured teasing among her coworkers.

Born Judith Arlene Resnik on April 5, 1949, in Akron, Ohio, to first-generation Jewish Russian parents, Judith was a bright, curious child who, by kindergarten, could both read and solve simple math problems. Her father, Marvin, was an optometrist and a part-time cantor when he married Sarah Polensky, a former legal secretary from Cleveland Heights. After Judith was born, the Resniks had a son, Charles.

The Resniks were an upper middle-class Jewish family devoted to their religion and to all learning. Gifted in math and science, Resnik excelled in academics from a young age. She also attended Hebrew school and, by her teenage years, was an accomplished classical pianist. Teachers and friends described her as extremely bright, disciplined, perfectionistic, and personable.

With a score of 800 on her math SAT tests, Resnik was accepted to Carnegie Tech (now Carnegie-Mellon) in Pittsburgh, where she majored in electrical engineering. After graduating in 1970, she married Michael Oldak, a fellow engineering student. The couple moved to New Jersey, where Resnik was employed in the missile and surface radar division of RCA. In 1971, they moved to Washington, D.C. Resnik received her master’s degree in engineering from the University of Maryland, and began work on her Ph.D. while employed as a biomedical engineer in the neurophysics lab at the National Institutes of Health. She and Oldak divorced in 1975.

Judy, after graduating from Carnegie-Mellon University in 1970 with a bachelor of science degree in electrical engineering said that she never hesitated to pursue an engineering career despite the few number of women in the field. "I was always good in math and science, and I liked it. Maybe I liked it because I was good in it." (Paragraph from Challenger Center)

In 1977, while she was finishing work on her doctorate, NASA began recruiting minorities and women to the space program. Though Resnik had never shown particular interest in the space program, she decided to apply. After receiving academic honors for her doctoral work in electrical engineering, she accepted a job with Xerox. She moved to Redondo Beach near Los Angeles, where she continued to train for the NASA tryouts. In 1978, at age twenty-nine, Resnik was one of six women accepted into the program.

Full image The first Jew and second woman to travel to space, Judith Resnik lost her life in the tragic explosion of the space shuttle Challenger in 1986, in which six other astronauts were killed.

Institution: NASA

She would be the second American woman to fly in space (after Sally Ride in 1983), and the fourth woman worldwide. During her first six years at NASA, she specialized in the operation of a remote-control mechanical arm that moved objects located outside the spacecraft. In 1984, on her first space flight on the shuttle Discovery, Resnik was responsible for unfurling a 102-foot-long solar sail, which, on future missions, would be used to capture the sun’s energy. Her first mission was as a specialist on the STS 41-D, launched in August 1984. It was also the first flight of the orbiter Discovery and Resnik was in space seven days. While on board that mission, she charmed the world when she flashed a sign that read "Hi Dad."

Resnik always loved her job. In 1984, she told Akron's Roundtable, "I think that astronauts probably have the best jobs in the world." She advised students in the audience to "Study what interests you. Do all you can and don't be afraid to expand into new fields."

NASA’s Challenger, Flight 51-L, was Resnik’s second space launch. She was to have assisted in photographing Halley’s comet. Famous for its civilian crew member, teacher Christa McAuliffe, the mission endured three delays before taking off at 11:38 a.m.on January 28, 1986. Seventy-three seconds into the flight, the space shuttle exploded in midair due to hydrogen leakage caused by faulty O-ring seals. Along with her six crew members, Resnik died in one of the worst space disasters in history; she was only 36 years old.

After her death Resnik's father described her - "She had the brain of a scientist and the soul of a poet."

[May her memory be for blessing. --JAWS]


Bernstein, Joanne E., and Rose Blue with Alan Jay Gerber. Judith Resnik, Challenger Astronaut (1990); “For Women Only: Resnik Scholarship.” Flying (January 1991); Hauck, Richard. Telephone interview by author, June 27, 1996; Sherr, Lynn. “Remember Judy.” Ms. (June 1986); Spencer, Scott, and Chris Spolar. “The Epic Flight of Judith Resnik: An Investigative Obituary.” Esquire (December 1986).

Sources: Credit for this page goes to the wonderful Jewish Women's Archive as well as Akron Women's History.

**We highly recommend you visit Danny Miller's blog for a wonderful article titled, Remembering Judy Resnik . --JAWS